Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Parents: Buy This Book. Read it. Love it.

Simone (age 5) and I just finished The Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Llody-Jones.

We both highly recommend it.

Although there are plenty of picture Bibles on the market, this one has some unique differences. For one thing, what sets this Bible apart is the theology contained therein. Young children may not be able to pick up on the differences between this book and the others out there, but I sure did.

The Jesus Story Book Bible tells many of the same stories (Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah etc.) as many kids' books do, but the difference is that it does not attempt to make every story into a little moral "lesson." Hang with me here...

"Be good, not bad!" That seems to be as deep as most children's Bibles go.

Be obedient, or else you too will get eaten by a big fish like Jonah! Daniel was obedient, so the lions didn't eat him. You better be obedient too! But is that the main point of Scripture?

Sure, the Scriptures contain morality and ethics. Much of our Bible (the real one that is) contains the Law of God. There is Law in both testaments. Nothing wrong with that. Psalm 119 tells us the Law is glorious and good. It rebukes and corrects us. Points our our flaws. But is that the main idea of Scripture? Surely we must go further than that to get to the heart of the Gospel.

Where Lloyd-Jones excels is in showing how much of the Old Testament foreshadows the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, she does well to show how the Bible is one running story of redemption history (seminary term!) In that sense, the point of the book is to show how the entire Bible is really all about Jesus: Him coming, His sacrifice, His Lordship. Here, Llody-Jones gets it exactly right. Rather than showing a series of unrelated tales on "be good, not bad!" this book is truly about the main idea--Jesus came to redeem a people that COULD not be good!

Rather than viewing the Old Testament as a string of "fables" in which we need to seek "the moral of the story" she views the entire OT as preparing a way for the Messiah. This is, of course, how Jesus HIMSELF interpreted the OT. (See for instance Jesus' summary of OT teaching in Luke 24:27 and 24:44-49).

By the time Sally Lloyd-Jones gets to the New Testament, eager young ears are waiting to hear about how God's great promises are fulfilled--and we get a hearty dose of the Gospel in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The illustrations by "Jago" are also outstanding. (They must be for a person who goes by only one name! If you are going to go by one name only, you better be excellent. Ask Pele).

Also, some Reformed readers won't like the depictions of Jesus. Theologically, I'm still a bit uneasy about that one myself too. (See Larger Catechism #109). We can debate whether any of the persons of the Trinity can be pictured at another time.

Nevertheless, this daddy (also a pastor) nearly got chocked up as the author and illustrator together combined to put on a brilliant picto-graphic portrayal of Christ's love throughout the whole work. I know you and your children will love it for a lifetime too.

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ten Practical Ways to Honor Christ on Resurrection Sunday

This coming Sunday is huge. This is the day that the Christian church traditionally celebrates the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But did you know that it is also an extraordinary opportunity to honor Him with your practical service?

Here are ten ways that you can glorify Christ be serving Him this weekend. 

1. Post your church's activities on social media. Help your church create a stir that something extraordinary is happening. Indeed it already has. Jesus rose from the grace.

2. Invite a friend. My experience shows this is the time of year that non-church people are very receptive to an invitation to come to church. Do it. Be bold. Take them to lunch afterwards.

3. Park as far from the church as you are able to walk. Give the visitors the impression that this place is accessible. Let them think, "This place is better than Wal-Mart! I pulled right in a primo spot!"

4. Beeline to a visitor. Make sure people feel welcome in your church. We forget how terrifying it is to walk into a new setting where everyone else seems to know each other. It is okay to let the people you already know and love float without you for a few moments. This is the best opportunity to connect all year.

5. Don't take the best seats. Sit near the front. You read that right. Most visitors are hoping to "sneak in the back" and take a distant seat to observe from afar. Give the visitors and Christmas/Easter folk an opportunity have their choice of premium seating. Don't worry, you don't have to be a charismatic to sit in the front row. You can stay Reformed, even if you are near the pulpit! Spurgeon said so. Or was it Calvin?

6.  Pray for your pastor. If he is like me, he is agonizing over his sermon this week. Really trying to hit a home run this weekend. Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire him, and pray that he remembers that the Holy Spirit converts sinners, not the best-prepared sermon.

7. Be a good example. Fill out the connection card. Open the hymnal. Pronounce the creed loudly. Keep your Bible open during church. All of these non-verbal cues show visitors, "This is how they do it here."

8. Stay and clean up. Most years, this is the busiest weekend service of all. It's also the messiest. Bulletins and gum will be everywhere. The restrooms will be well-used. The staff is likely exhausted from multiple services this week. Give them a hand.

9. Pray again. After the service is over, pray again for the sermon, that the Spirit would come and seal the message into people's hearts even after the formal time of worship is over.

10. Tweet, share, and promote the audio, video, quotes, and Scriptures. Do this both before and after the weekend. Let people know what is coming up--and what happened when it is over.

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Cross Is...

(The following notes are the manuscript of Pastor Matthew Everhard's 
Maundy Thursday sermon entitled, 'The Cross is...') 

The Ubiquitous Cross

The cross is everywhere. It is a symbol of almost everything from religious denominations, to non-profit humanitarian organizations, to jewelry, to high fashion. In the course of any given week, you may see a cross…
  • Hanging from golden pendants or necklace chains around the neck.
  • Tattooed on the back of the cage fighter as he is entering the octagon.
  • As a symbol of “peace” such as on the Red Cross logo, or on a tombstone in the cemetery.
  • On the stylistic and elaborate t-shirts of dancers in a nightclub.
  • On the flags of any one of several dozen nations, and a couple of the US state flags.
  • As a military symbol, often found on medals and awards.

But the question is, what does it mean? What does it stand for? 

The Cross Is… 
In tonight’s message, I would like to mention twenty things about the cross of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, we don’t care what meaning the world gives to it. We want to know what the Bible teaches. The cross is…

1.    Necessary. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17). When humanity sinned, God immediately began to fulfill His promise about death. Death came into the natural world and order as a consequence to human rebellion. The first deaths recorded are in reference to the skins that God made for Adam and Eve while still in the Garden. These animal deaths were precursors to the numerous animals that would have to die in the OT sacrificial system. Once sin entered, death was certain. The cross is a necessary death so that death itself would die!

2.    Cursed. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). According to Paul in Galatians, there is a curse upon those who hang on a tree. Deuteronomy 21:23 says, 22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. Jesus Christ would take the curse of the wrath of God on our behalf for us!

3.    Prophesied and foreshadowed in the OT. 4Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5). There are numerous places in the Scriptures where the cross is foreshadowed. Of course, the entire sacrificial system of the OT foresees the cross: the temple sacrifices, the blood, the perfect lamb of the Passover. But almost no passage is a rich and layered as Isaiah’s prophecy spoken 700 years before Jesus came.

4.    Brutal. There they crucified him (John 19:18). In the Gospels, we do not have a thorough description of crucifixion. There is no elaborate description of the cross. No moment, by moment “Passion of the Christ”-like description of Jesus death. Why not? Mostly because the early church had seen many, many crucifixions done in their own day. John uses the briefest economy of words. Let me add that it was the most painful method of torture that could be contrived by the Romans in order to induce fear in their captured peoples. It was given so as to produce the longest possible suffering before death occurred.

5.    Shameful. Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Further, the cross was done in order to heighten the shame of the convicted criminal. There are noble ways to die (such as in a heroic war or battle) but the cross was designed to be the most shameful way possible. Men would cry like boys. Most were crucified naked. Men were pinned to the cross frontward so as to expose their most modest regions. Women too were crucified, back outward so as to give them some remote element of cover. Do not make the cross a glorious event in your mind with Jesus wearing a white robe with purple sash! The Gospels make clear that His clothing was gambled for at the foot of the cross.

6.    Predestined. 23 This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23). But lest we think that somehow the story of our Christ has spiraled out of control, no! God planned this. Acts 2:23 makes clear the most mysterious and baffling of paradoxes. The cross was both the wicked volition of twisted men and their debased minds, and yet harmoniously the perfect will and plan of God so as there is no incongruity in its execution between men’s will and the will of Almighty God.

7.    Foreseen by Our Lord. 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31. cf. 9:31, 10:33). The cross did not catch Jesus off guard. He knew it was impending. He predicted it many times to His disciples in order to prepare them. Nevertheless, they refused to believe this could be God’s plan for redemption.

8.    Offensive. So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do (1 Peter 2:7-9). When the cross is explained to most people, it is offensive. It is offensive because we do not want to believe that this was necessary to redeem us! We don’t believe that we were THAT BAD and we don’t want to believe that God is THAT MERCIFUL. It is offensive to tell people they need died for. It is deeply offensive to tell people that it should have been us on the cross!

9.    The Great Dividing Line. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18). It is impossible to be neutral about the cross. You are either redeemed by the cross or you are its enemy. We must declare our sides and our allegiance. Those who believe they do not need a redeemer have declared themselves to be the enemies of the cross and of the Gospel.

10. Foolishness. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). Therefore, it is seen as something to be mocked. To be laughed at. To be scorned. Something to be mocked. A crucified savior is exactly the opposite of what the world of arrogant men would have drawn up. The earliest known drawing or piece of art depicting the crucifixion of Jesus is a second or third century (?) graffito carving in the Palatine Hills of Rome depicting a man worshipping a crucified jackass. The inscription reads “Alexamenos worships his god” and was mean to mock Christians in general and a young convert named Alexamenos in particular. The mockery has not stopped to this day. Neither has the worship of our crucified and risen King!

11. The Very Center of the Gospel. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:13-15). And yet for us, the cross is the very center of the Gospel, the heart of Christianity! Fallen man can now be redeemed by a Holy God and united to one another in brotherly love!

12.  Our Peace…19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:19-20). Peace has been made by God on behalf of man! Man declared rebellion, but God declared His peace and gave it to us through the cross. We need but to repent and to believe in order to find the peace that transcends all understanding! This very peace is available to you! Tonight!

13. The Burden of our Discipleship… If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24). Jesus described the Christian life as one of “cross-bearing.” That means it will be the most difficult life you can imagine. It will be rigorous. Demanding. All-consuming. Discipleship is a slow death—death to oneself and to one’s sin.

14.  Our Motive for Holiness. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). Now, we are so united to Jesus that Paul can state “I’ve been crucified with Jesus!” I am united to Christ in a mysterious way so that I can say that I died with Christ and that Christ died FOR me. On my behalf. In my stead. Therefore I lack no motivation to follow Him in holiness. I desire holiness because He lived and died for me.

15. The Boasting of Believers. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14). For this reason, rather than being an emblem of my shame, the cross for me is now my highest boasting! It is my greatest prize! It is my faithful hope! It brings me joy and makes me feel alive in Christ!

16.  The Heart of Every Faithful Sermon. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). This was true for Paul and it ought to be true in every church that claims to be Christian. The cross is our relentless message. Our primary narrative. Our doctrine. It is the heart of every good and faithful sermon. Paul could even say to the Corinthians, For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

17. The Hope of a United Mankind. By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Ephesians 2:15-17). If there is one thing that all of mankind has in common, it is our total depravity. Every race, every kind. If there is a second thing that we have in common, it is that Christ’s blood can unite us and make us into a new humanity!

18.  The Source of My New Life. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20). Because of the cross, I can say I have new life in Him! I have crossed over from death to life! I am a new creation in Jesus Christ!

19. The Place of our Lord’s Utter Humility and High Exaltation. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:7-9).

20. The cross is our only hope! 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Son of God: Is Another Movie Necessary?

By Dr. Wilfred Bellamy

They thought they could do as they pleased with Him. And so when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey they hailed Him their conquering hero. Then as the week progressed they rallied against Him. He declared Himself to be King of the Jews, the Messiah had come, and they became violent. Pilate washed his hands and found no fault with the Son of God. The crowd yelled "Crucify Him!" To all He was little more than an object.

He was flogged, sorely abused and wounded. Slowly He hauled His wooden beam to the place called Calvary, the place of execution and shame. There they did as they wanted to do ... they nailed His hands and feet to a cross and raised Him for all to see. Passers by wagged their heads, mocked and scorned Him. Gawkers stopped to study His suffering and probably said to themselves; "He got what He deserved."

It still goes on. People do as they please with the Son of God. They write what they choose, print what they choose, paint portraits and hang them for all the see, or worse yet, make movies so that people can sit in cinemas to witness a man's rendition of the sufferings of the Son of God. So unreal, plastic, contrived! We have not changed. The blood lust is still there. The mob violence that took Him to Calvary still abides.

But remember, He remains indomitable. He is the conquering Christ. He suffered and bled and died to be the supreme sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He satisfied the justice of God for the justification of His elect children, past, present and future. He was innocent but became guilty as He drew all my sins upon Himself, embracing them as surely as the thorns upon His head, and then took them to Hell where they belonged, witnessing His triumph over sin and death.

My victorious Lord Jesus is the risen Christ, vindicated, majestic as He was raised from the dead. They had rolled a stone at his tomb and probably said; "So that's that!" All was over and done with...on to the next criminal. Yet those close to Him saw Him, broke bread and ate with Him, and walked and talked with Him. Some understood what had happened while others puzzled over His glorious presence. He came through a wall to show the evidence of His crucifixion. There was no lingering question or doubt. Jesus was risen from the dead.

And then, as He was gathered to the Father in Heaven, as He ascended into the eternal glory that was always His, it was promised that "this same Jesus," the conquering Son of God, will come again. How amazing! What a challenge to those who had thought He was special but just a human being like themselves. Crucified, risen, and now to return? Incredible.  Wonderful.

So I wait with longing. I look to the horizon and I pray: "Even so come Lord Jesus!" I live in anticipation and expectation that the One whom I have come to know, not by way of the media, but by way of the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart, is my coming King. I need no other argument. His truth is sufficient ... "for it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast."

-Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D., is a former missionary to Nigeria, and an ordained pastor in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.